The post All-Star-break Seattle Mariners light-stepped out of town July 20 to see whether their modestly successful 4-3 home record had legs. For one game it did, as the M's started the Toronto-Texas two-step with a 4-2 win against the Blue Jays. Then, starting Saturday, July 21, the knees buckled, the toes curled, and the M's stumbled just about every way they could. They scored early but not late, late but not early and, for consecutive games, didn't score at all. With every sport except, perhaps, nocturnal bar-cruising, it's generally considered impossible to win without scoring. Then the Mariners lost in the worst way imaginable short of sustaining player injury. Their one guy laying claim to perfection this year, Mr. Joseph Jason Putz, left an eighth-inning fastball over the plate where even the skinny infielder and Seattle reject Ramon Vazquez could get to it. Seconds later, the ball crash-landed beyond the center-field fence, punctuating what soon would be the M's sixth straight loss, 7-6 to Texas, on Wednesday, July 25. What happened? The vaunted Seattle offense, up against a string of teams playing sub-.500, often looked like that of a sub-.300 club. Starting pitching couldn't finish anything. Opponents seemed to welcome the Seattle term "relief pitcher" as though it actually meant a container of cold beer. Runners got caught where they shouldn't have been: off base. Putz, who had been perfect in going-on 30 save situations, didn't get to throw much until the finale, and his masterful skein ended at 29. Only those with morbid curiosity would have wanted to be aboard the plane that left Texas as July 25 became Thursday the 26th. The M's floated home to play Oakland and Los Angeles, two more division foes, which rhymes with woes, which is what this team has as it collapses just after pulling within a game or two of the division lead. Yes, and the man sent ahead to Seattle from Texas as Thursday's would-be loss-stopper and scheduled starter: Jeff Weaver. Well, and why not the one-time nightmare guy who lately could be called Dream Weaver? Supposed staff ace Felix Hernandez seems to lack the maturity to take seriously anything like a pennant run. He blew up again during the loss streak, letting an umpire fluster him. The apparently mended Horacio Ramirez had a miserable start against Texas (his road-game earned-run average is 13.72). Miguel Batista gave back leads and allowed five earned runs in six innings during the July 25 catastrophe. Lefties Jarrod Washburn and Ryan Feierabend pitched well enough to win each of the July 24 double-header games, both of them one-run losses for the M's. After the twin killing, some of the players proposed a team-unity gesture involving the cutting of players' hair. Strictly from a GQ sensibility, this seemed well advised, especially for Richie Sexson (not so much the team's Mr. Clutch as its Mr. Brake). In fact, it proved to be an idea at least as dubious as the one Delilah once suggested to Samson, as the already clean-cut M's again got clipped by the Rangers. Other clubs are posturing for the post-season, still two months away. The Yankees are within 6.5 games of the Red Sox (playing at Safeco to end the M's homestand). The Angels, meanwhile, widened their pad against Seattle to 3.5 games. The M's, then, certainly are better off now than they have been at this point during recent seasons. But a sudden Seattle turnaround is somewhat less than certain. It's hard for a desperate team to play loose, especially returning from a 1-6 road trip that could help define another failed season. Moreover, the M's, when dancing with division partners during the latter halves of seasons, have a history of letting the other guys lead.